North Carolina commitment Tony Bradley probably won’t ever win a dunk contest. His athleticism, while good enough to earn scholarship offers from schools across the country, isn’t listed as a strength. And he probably will never finish first in UNC’s annual mile run.
“What he’s not,” Bartow Head Coach Terrence McGriff said, “sometimes overshadows what he is.”
The natural follow-up question is, “What is he?”
“A basketball player,” said McGriff. “He can throw a hook with his right hand. He can hit a jump shot; he can pass the ball out of the high post. He can defend on a ball screen. He has the best hands of any big guy in the class. That’s not athleticism, that’s basketball.”
Bradley, a 6-10, 230-pound center from Bartow (Fla.) High School, is the Tar Heels' most advanced post scoring commitment since Tyler Zeller. This past summer, Bradley had among the best AAU seasons of any class of 2016 big man.
“It isn’t necessarily about his moves,” McGriff said. “I’d say it’s beating people down the floor and getting position. 'I don’t have to make a move if I beat my man down the floor, my butt is on his thigh and I’ve got great position from running rim to rim. If that happens, I’m going to get a layup.' That’s what Tony does all the time.”
His play reinforced what McGriff – and the UNC coaching staff – saw in him nearly a year ago.
“To someone who hasn’t watched him consistently, what he did over the summer was splashing or surprising,” McGriff explained. “There isn’t anything he did in the summer that he hadn’t already done for us. Because we’re not a prep school, just a regular high school, sometimes people don’t see it.”
“North Carolina saw him more than anybody else in the last year, so they already knew. Along with Florida, Carolina probably picked up on how good he was before everyone else.”
But UNC’s recruitment of Bradley almost never materialized. Last summer, after the Bartow staff called several schools to tell them about Bradley, North Carolina took in a few of his AAU games. Bradley’s play that particular weekend wasn’t great.
Still, assistant coach Steve Robinson flew down to Florida to watch Bradley in an open gym, and liked what he saw.
“When (Steve) Robinson came down, he watched him for a little bit and then said ‘OK, he can play,’” McGriff recalls. “He said ‘I’m going to get coach (Roy Williams) down here real soon.’”
Williams was convinced of Bradley’s potential not long after the visit. He, along with assistant coaches Hubert Davis and Robinson, made several more trips to Bartow.
“They did their due diligence, followed up and once they felt like they had a chance with him, they were all in,” said McGriff. “I think that, and the coaching change at Florida, made the difference for them.”
Since starting with Bartow and McGriff three years ago, Bradley has shed a considerable amount of weight and increased his endurance. In concert, the two improvements have enhanced his already-high level of skill.
“I’m not just saying this because I’m his high school coach, but we’re surprised he isn’t a top 15 player,” said McGriff. “He’s a player you can throw the ball to in the post and he can get a score. When the game slows down to half-court sets, he’ll make a play.”
“North Carolina is getting a steal,” he continued. “When they have won titles with Roy Williams, they’ve had a low-post scorer, a Sean May and a Tyler Hansbrough. For their system, he’s exactly what they want.”